Do you spend a lot of time wondering about our productivity? How can you get more things done, and what tasks should you prioritize?
If you are like me, you may depend on our gut feeling or the urgency of the issue at hand to decide which task you should do at that moment. For me, when deciding which task that I need to do, I have prioritized on the basis of urgency of the work. Many a times urgency of the work overruled some other more important things that I needed doing. At those times, I feel that the urgency has higher stakes on my decision making, not the importance. There had always been a manifest trade-off between the urgency of work at hand versus the importance of that work. It’s a tough endeavor to determine which task to focus on.
Until I came across this really effective and powerful productivity framework named Eishenhower Decision Matrix, named after the 34th President of the United States Dwight D. Eishenhower. This framework helps me a lot navigating the trade-off between urgency and importance.
Eishenhower Decision Matrix
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix, also known as Urgency-Important Matrix, helps anybody prioritize task based on the urgency and importance of the tasks involved. It helps anybody sort out less-urgent and less-important tasks that should be delegated or not be done at all.
The Origin of Eisenhower Decision Matrix
It is named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. He also served as a general in the United States Army and the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during the World War II.
During his tenure as the military commander and President of the United States, Eisenhower had to make difficult decisions each day as to which tasks among many that he should focus on each day. That’s how the famous Eisenhower principle came about as a decision making framework, sorted by urgency and importance.
How to use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix:
Prioritizing tasks by urgency and importance results in 4 quadrants with different work strategies:
1. Do First — The First Quadrant — Important and Urgent:
First quadrant intersects Urgent and Important tasks. These are tasks that you need to do now and are most important. Say, the revenue generating strategy – which is important for the company – that your manager asked you devise might fall into this category. These are the tasks, left undone, may jeopardize your career, grade, or other important issue in your life. You should never prioritize any other quadrant over this quadrant.
2. Schedule — The Second Quadrant — Important and Less Urgent:
Second quadrant intersects Important and Less Urgent tasks. These works are what you eventually need to get done, but can schedule later. Say, you need to plan your gym schedule to re-start your long-planned fitness regime. This work is important, but not urgent.
I see this quadrant as one where I have some time to do, however, I need or have to do the tasks that fall into this quadrant. I try to plan for the work in this quadrant. Doing the planning for this quadrant helps me calm down because, at least, I know that I have thought about my pending important, but not urgent tasks.
3. Delegate — The Third Quadrant — Urgent but Less Important:
These are urgent work, but less important. These are the tasks that you may delegate others. For instance, someone is asking for an urgent favor from you, but you can not help, but you know someone who might. So you may delegate the person to someone else who might be able to help.
This is the quadrant where mobilizing resources or personnel in your network can come handy. These are the tasks that you need to do, but may be, you have more important things to do, and we always have more interesting things to do. Therefore, you might think about outsourcing these tasks or delegating these tasks to somebody who does it well or have other incentives to help you or do it for you. When you delegate the tasks of this quadrant, you may want to think about paying for these tasks as well. If you can afford, delegating urgent but less important tasks for money is a great idea.
4. Don’t Do — The Fourth Quadrant — Less Important and Less Urgent:
These are the works that you are well-off by putting off entirely or not doing at all. These are bad-habits like surfing the internet aimlessly for hours or being on social media aimlessly for hours.These are the tasks that you may consider as indulgence, only to be engaged with when you have ample time to kill in your hand. If you decide to pursue any of the tasks in this quadrant, be clear that it’s your choice and preference and you are enjoying doing it.
Therefore, I hope that when you think about your schedule, you have now one more tool to think about your work. Using this tool, I hope you will have more clarity as to what’s important versus what’s urgent, and the interplay between them. I wish you a more productive and happier life.